How to become a travel photojournalist

Posted on 24 March 2011

So, you think that being a travel photojournalist at a publication like Getaway magazine is your idea of the ultimate dream job?

For many people, the idea of travelling for work would be a fantasy come true. If you’re into writing, photography and (obviously) travel, then it could be your perfect job.

The problem is, there are only so many travel publications and websites out there – how do you get a job at one of them when you’re competing with thousands of other hopefuls?

Well, the short answer is that you have to be unflaggingly enthusiastic and talented. That may not be enough though – how many other enthusiastic and talented would-be photojournos are there out there?

Here are some ways that you can make a headstart in your travel photojournalism career.

1. If your writing needs improvement, then enroll in a course. SA Writers’ College offers a travel writing online course with ex-Getaway editor, Don Pinnock, as one of the tutors. Having a qualification in travel writing will look good on your CV, although it’s not essential. There are countless other travel writing courses out there – just find one that suits your budget and schedule. The only way to really improve though, is by practising. This is where blogging comes in (see point three) – if you have a blog then you have a platform for your writing and you’ll hopefully be motivated to write as much as possible. Get friends and family to read your work and offer (constructive) criticism.

2. Getting better at photography is all about practice, practice, practice. But, if you don’t have a clue then you need to start with the basics. First off, you need a decent camera, preferably a digital SLR. Then you need to either get a skilled-photographer friend to give you some lessons, or you need to do a course. I can personally recommend the Cape Town School of Photography‘s courses. I did the beginner’s DSLR course a couple of years ago and it gave me great basic training. Getaway photojournalist Evan Haussmann also suggests working as a photographer’s assistant – you will learn a lot and get paid at the same time.

Getaway often hosts travel photography workshops in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. Check out our website for details of upcoming workshops.

3. There’s no better way to get into travel writing and put your name out there than by blogging. Set up a blog for yourself on WordPress (my favourite blogging platform – it’s free and easy to use), and start blogging! The key factor when blogging is quality – just because they’re blogs it doesn’t mean you can write sloppily about any random topic that you think of (unless you want that kind of blog, in which case it’s not going to help you get a job in travel journalism). Edit your blog posts meticulously, think about your style, tone and blogging voice and make sure you have great pics to go with the post.

We’re always on the lookout for new food and travel bloggers to blog for us on our site. If you would like to be a Getaway blogger, then email examples of your writing and photography to [email protected]. Blogging for Getaway doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll move on to getting a job at Getaway or have your stories published in the magazine but it is a good way of your work getting noticed by the editor.

4. Social networking is a great (and free) way for you to get your name out there. Share your blogs with your friends on Facebook, or even create a Facebook page for your blog and attract fans to the page. Become a personality on Twitter and use the platform to connect with publications, media organisations, editors, publishers and journos that you’re interested in.

If you’re wanting to get involved with Getaway, engage with us by becoming an active fan on our Facebook page, and follow us (and tweet us!) on Twitter.

5. Doing an internship is a great way to gain experience as well as a foot in the door of a media house. Contact media companies to find out about their internship programs, or email editors directly with your CV and indicate a willingness to work as an intern. The pay may be minimal (or non-existent) but, as an ex-intern I can say that in my experience, it’s the best way to start your travel journalism career.

Want to work at Getaway? We’re often looking for short-term interns in our digital team. Email us with your CV and examples of your work at [email protected] if you’re interested.


Not  many publications employ full time journos  – they prefer to use freelancers to make up the bulk of the stories in the publication.

Cameron Ewart-Smith, Getaway’s editor, has these tips for wannabe freelancers:

1. When you start out, the big challenge in freelancing is getting your foot in the door. My advice is that while you should be mindful of your rates, don’t be so bullish that you end up alienating editors and clients. Ultimately, the best freelancers are all brilliant at client service. As you get busier and busier it becomes easier and easier to turn work away and to push up your rates. But, in the beginning do anything you can. I once did a freelance gig for a publisher for free because he didn’t have the budget, and I had already been to a place that they needed to cover. Two months later the editor of the title in question left and they offered me the contract to edit the title. So basically, always be mindful of the future.

2. Always hit your deadlines. This business runs on time, everytime. If you make a habit of being late, eventually the machine runs off without you!

3. Keep in contact with your favourite editors and don’t be precious about rejection. For every story I accept I turn down about a hundred.

4. Sub-editors always, always improve your work and you should trust their judgement. Be mindful of meaning and fact changes but if the sub thinks its better one way rather than another, they generally have a good idea of why.

5. Cultivate relationships with multiple editors. We all have similar problems – plenty of blank pages. But we also generally want a diversity of voices from our freelancers. So you won’t get regular gigs for the same publication all the time.

6. The first prize as a freelancer is regular work. It is much easier starting each month with regular contracts in place than from scratch not knowing what you will earn. If you have the opportunity to get a permanent or regular contract –  like a column for example  – it is worth adjusting your rates accordingly to ensure you get the job.

7. Make sure you understand the brief and work to it accurately. Don’t waste everyone’s time by writing too many words. If we commission 1500 words, we want 1500 words, not 3000 words.

8. Refer to recent copies of the magazine to check for style and the nature of material.

9. Freelancers need to research their clients’ needs before submitting work. There’s no point offering me a story on a place I have just covered. One look at the archives or, even better,  back copies of the magazine will tell you a lot about where it is headed.

10. Story research is critical. You’re unlikely to get your story published if you’ve done sloppy research and there are glaring mistakes. In-depth research makes for in-depth,  fascinating reading.

11. Get a good accounting package such as Quick Books Simple Start (for PC ) which is free and does accurate invoicing. You need to be able to concentrate on your work, and not the admin. Quick Books allows you to produce statements, see who has paid and who hasn’t etc. Come tax time, its a blessing.

In a nutshell: write short and take good photos.

Also, you have to remember to have fun. What we do – travel journalism – is terribly rewarding although you won’t ever be rich. If you’re not having fun and if your trips are not an adventure it will show in your writing and photography.

It is not easy getting published in Getaway. Generally you need exceptional photographs to back up your writing. The writing needs to be world-class, informative and entertaining, which is not easy to do. It is terribly competitive so unfortunately its a buyer’s market and you need to keep at it, rejection after rejection. Eventually you’ll crack it.

How to submit your work for publication in Getaway: Email your story (in a word document) and attach a couple of your best photos (low res) to [email protected].

If you’re keen on freelancing, read The seven myths of being a travel writer before you decide to launch your career – it demystifies what people think is a glamorous and easy job.

For a bit of inspiration, here’s how our editors and journos got their dream jobs at Getaway:

Me, web and food editor: Having always wanted to be a writer, I studied English literature (Honours) at the University of Cape Town. After varsity I moved to London where I worked as a legal journalist (not my first choice, but it was a great first job). I travelled a lot around Europe in the two years that I was based in London. Thereafter, the travelling itch got stronger and I had to scratch it by going on a three-month trip around South East Asia. Wanting to travel in Asia, and experience living in a completly foreign country, I taught English in Taiwan for five months. Teaching 19 five-year-olds all day was not my thing, so I came back to Cape Town and started as a digital intern at Getaway. I’ve been here for over a year and a half and I have no plans of leaving anytime soon!

Cameron Ewart-Smith, editor: It all started a long time ago when my dad gave me his Nikon F camera to try – I think I was 11. We started taking some images back then and I suppose the interest kind of grew from there. I was lucky ennough to study Marine Biology at UCT with some very influential writers and photographers. Through them I discovered that I wanted to communicate. I have always been a bit of a storyteller, so it was natural to want to tell those stories to bigger audiences. I think the combination of storytelling, the environment and the desire to see and experience stuff set me on a collision course with Getaway. When Pat Wagner left Getaway he suggested I apply. David Bristow, the  editor at the time, recognised something in me and I got the job. I started at very low pay and just loved every minute that I spent on the brand. I left Getaway four years later as a senior photojournalist. I travelled through South America and then returned to freelancing. I was lucky enough to be offered the editorship of Mitsubishi’s magazine Xplore by a great guy at New Media Publishing called Andrew Nunnelly. Shortly thereafter I also took over the editorship of Wild magazine for SANParks. Eventually my responsibilities there swamped me and I had to turn away from Mitsubishi. Then the opportunity came up at Getaway and so I returned home, if you like. I love the brand and the brand ideal of ‘In everything we do we enrich peoples lives through travel’. It’s very much the way I think!

Justin Fox, editor-at-large: I studied English at UCT, and then a masters and doctorate in English. After all the studying, I applied to be a junior journalist at Getaway, and stayed forever (in our world, that’s over 10 years).

Alison Westwood, digital manager and photojournalist: After working in advertising, I moved on to working at an online travel company for three and a half years. While I was there, I convinced them to let me travel, take photos and write. After leaving the company to work on various web projects, I found out about a position available at Getaway through an old friend who was the art director at the time. My first application was unsuccessful, but after a few months I was called in for an interview. I was told that the writing that I had submitted was not congruent with Getaway’s style, so I wrote a piece specifically for Getaway, adapting my writing to their style. I got the job!

Evan Haussman, photojournalist: I studied advertising and worked in an advertising agency as a copywriter for five years. I have always travelled, and when I left the agency I tried to come up with ways to get paid to travel. I figured I could do that by becoming a professional photographer. As a self-taught photographer, I’ve had a passion for photography since school. I worked as a freelance photographer for a location scouting company, worked on commercial stills production, fashion shoots and my own photography. In between working, I travelled a lot and shot a lot of photos.  when a position at Getaway came up friends suggested that I apply. I was chosen for the job out of hundreds of candidates. I came to Getaway with 15 years of experience in writing and photography and I think it was my confidence in my skills that got me the job.

Dylan Kotze, photojournalist: I’ve always been interested in photography, diving and surfing. Luckily for me, those three passions combine well. Diving took me to a lot of places all over the world, and as I travelled I took photos. I worked at a dive centre in Tofo, Mozambique, doing underwater photography and videography for three years, after which I decided that I wanted to make photography my career. Because I am interested in travel and the outdoors, Getaway was an obvious place to apply. I approached Getaway with a portfolio of photos and asked for a job. I started out as an intern and stayed! Now I travel on assignment, write articles, do studio photography and write the ‘gear’ pages.

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